Tuesday, June 21, 2016

3 Secret Techniques for Editing Your Novel (Elizabeth)

Of all tasks involved with publishing a novel, editing is one of the hardest. I didn’t think so when I began writing, but now I know better…

Your story was new and, well, novel when you first pumped out that terrific story world, concept, character, or plot (depending on what type of writer you are) and built everything up from there. The colors were vivid, the material sleek and smooth, but now it’s like that old sweater you’ve jammed in the back of your closet, the fabric stretched further than any fabric should be able to stretch, the original colors a faint memory. Suddenly, it’s not so much fun to wear anymore. At this point, it’s easy to snatch another new, shiny story idea and play with that. Why keep tinkering with a boring, old story when you don’t have to?
This post is for those brave souls who push past the point of comfort, rainbows, and sunshine to bring the world high-quality literature. Today, we’re going to cover 3 Secret Techniques to bring fun and efficiency to your editing process.

Technique #1: Read It Aloud
Okay, I cheated. Reading it aloud isn’t that original or unheard of, but it’s a technique all writers should use—not only for their books, but also for blog posts. Typos are sneaky, little creatures, hiding within the depths of your manuscript. You could read your novel silently. You could go over your manuscript with a red marker. But if you really want to fish out those little buggers, you’ll have to go through the rather monotonous process of reading it aloud. Fun, no. Effective, yes.

Purpose: To weed out typos.

Materials Needed:
A Manuscript

Directions: Read the manuscript… Aloud. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

Technique #2: The Dot Test

Now, here’s a technique that you probably haven’t heard of before. I chose a more thorough, detailed method of The Dot Test. If you’d like the basic version, check out the link above.

Purpose: To measure tension.

Materials Needed:
A Few Different Highlighters (optional)
Notebook Paper (or any lined paper)
A Brain (also optional, since some folks seem to get along just fine without one. Just kidding ;) )

Directions: Choose a line to start with and draw a dot for the first chapter. Read each chapter, assessing whether the tension is higher, even, or lower to the tension of the last chapter. If it’s higher, draw the dot above the last chapter’s dot and connect the lines. If lower, draw the dot on the line below. If even, draw the dot on the same line. Connect the dots and see if the tension in your manuscript has that classic rise and fall, peaking at the climax.

Options: As you can see in the picture above, I took a more detailed route. I wrote the names of each chapter on the horizontal axis and used the vertical axis to measure tension.
I also marked out the plot points in purple, pinch points in pink, and other plot-significant events, according to the 3 Act Structure.
I measured the rise of action in pink and the fall in purple.
On a few chapters, I drew an X in pencil to mark my strongest chapters. I’ll go over this more in the next technique. Depending on your word count, choose an appropriate amount of strongest chapter. Go for around one strong chapter per 10,000 words you have. That means roughly five strong chapters for a 50,000 word manuscript, ten for 100,000 words and so on.
I drew little droplets on the chapters that she cried. I was concerned about her being too melodramatic.
I also grouped the chapters together and wrote how many pages they took with a purple highlighter. This won’t make sense now, but it will once you understand the next technique.

This one’s also tons of fun!

Purpose: To look at the entirety of your novel at a glance.

Materials Needed:
Ideally 30 Pages of Your Manuscript (To get your manuscript to 30 pages, you’ll have to shrink the font—make sure it’s still legible up close! If it’s still not 30 pages, try shrinking the margins or splitting the text into two columns. I have around 100,000 words for my manuscript, so 60 pages was the smallest I could go.)
A Wide Space

Directions: Spread your manuscript out on a very large table or a cleared floor. Use the pink highlighter to draw an X over your strongest chapters (remember to use however many strong chapters is proportional to your manuscript). If you’d like, you can draw purple boxes around the chapters that are plot points and pink boxes around the chapters that are pinch points. Make sure the strong chapters are spread out, so there’s no sagging beginning, middle, or end.

Now, this really puts your novel into perspective. From here, choose something you want to work on in your novel. It could be conflict with your antagonist, settings you use, character interactions, a subplot, etc. Now use a certain color of highlighter to mark those particular scenes, take a step back, and see if you’re meeting your goals. This is what I was talking about in The Dot Test. The chapters were different lengths, so I wrote down on the Dot Test how many pages a group of chapters took up in the Shrunken Manuscript.

I salute you, fellow editors of stories! Keep on polishing that story ;)

What interesting writing techniques have you heard of? What stage of writing are you currently in? How do you edit your novel?

Enjoy your editing!


  1. This is great! I agree that editing is usually underestimated by new writers. It is definitely the bulk of writing, especially for those who don't yet know how to get it right the first time. I love your techniques. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Awesome ideas, Elizabeth! I am in the process of editing right now and this gives me some fun ideas!

  3. Thanks for these great tips, Liz! I definitely like to get a big-picture sense of my plot structure, so I'll give tips 2 and 3 a try! And I read my writing aloud all the time, it's so helpful! I'll admit, getting a glance at your dot test had me thinking about your story - when will I get to read more?? :)

    1. Awesome! I love reading my writing aloud too. It's like going over your work with a fine-toothed comb ;) Hopefully soon! I've started on the "first draft" (quotation marks, since it's a rewrite). I think I'll go ahead and plow through this draft and complete it before posting it to our critique group :)

  4. This is a wonderful post. I'm going to bookmark it. :)

  5. These are great tips, Liz! Thank you so much for sharing!


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