When doing one of the final edits for your novel, it’s hard to get a degree of separation from the words on the page. Because you wrote them all. There is emotional attachment in every syllable. So there are a few tools I use to help me remove superfluous material and keep the flow, pace, and tension up throughout my story.
This is pretty close to a contextual edit.
Firstly I like to clearly identify the basics of my story. The beginning, where the scene is set, the characters are introduced, the goal or challenge is stated, and what is risked or the challenges to be faced will entail. It’s about world building and setting the tone of your novel. Are all the themes introduced – what are they? The middle, where the protagonist faces obstacles, be they personal, emotional, or physical. Character growth and development from facing these obstacles. Is there one or more turning points, and do they reflect on the theme/s of the story. And the climactic end. A lose-everything-or-die scenario. High emotion, fast pacing, and does it tie up the theme of the novel? Are all your plot points resolved? Does it feel like a natural conclusion? Have you revisited and reflected upon the questions you posed in your introduction? I know all of this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many published novels do not fit this criteria. Identifying a clear start, middle and end will put a spotlight on scenes or chapters that diverge away from your core plot line.
Then I move to taking a closer look at each chapter or scene. It depends on your writing style. Some like to unfold part of the plot over a chapter, some do it through scenes. Some have long chapters, others short.
The main thing I focus on here is asking myself questions like: Is this relevant to the plot of my novel? Is this essential for the character profile, or their development? Is this part of a character arc? Does this tie into my theme/s or shed light on part of my story? Is it increasing the stakes? Generally, if the answer is a negative, I’ll re-read the part of the novel with the section in question omitted, and if I feel it still makes sense and haven’t lost anything in regards to the main story, I’ll cut it. You can highlight it, save a new version of your manuscript, or put all the cuts into a new document in case you change your mind later. On a side note, these cuts are great tools for marketing later – publishing them on your social media or website as extras to entice readers. Never delete!
Don’t be afraid to be brutal with your cuts. Having a focused story keeps the pace and interest of your novel at a premium. Resulting in a reader so excited after reading one scene, they can’t wait to read the next. Making cuts like this and focusing on chapter or scene individually allows you to ensure it’s the best it can be, that it is leading the story forward.
If some characters are not supporting the protagonist or the main plot, cut them. Or just mention them in passing. No need to develop a backstory and motivation if they are not adding to the narrative or plot. A rule of thumb is like they do in television shows and movies – if the character is not important, they generally don’t have a name in the credits. Like ‘lady on bus,’ or ‘guy with glasses.’ Keep non-essential characters with those descriptors, so that they are an interesting observation in the landscape and not dragging your narrative with unnecessary tangents.
So that’s the basic premise I use to declutter my manuscript. Further to this, which is usually for the final draft, is a line edit. When I ask the same questions per sentence… and then focus on sentence structure, tense, perspective, spelling and grammar. And usually by that point it’s as polished as I can get it, my brain is melting and dripping from my ears, and I send it out to another professional editor/s to make it even better.
I find addressing questions that always bring me back to deciding if the material is relevant to my story are the key indicators as to whether cuts should be made.
I hope my method of editing helps you in some way for your creative process. What methods do you use that are effective – let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for great tools to improve my writing and share with fellow authors.
In the meantime, write something every day, and carry on. 🙂
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