Lessons in Editing Novels

writing13 002In 2009, I wrote my first ‘novel’.

In reality, it was a re-telling of a published story, only set in my University with bland characters and little to no plot. But I think most teenager’s first novel would end up a bit like that.

This 50k piece of work gave me the courage to try writing for real, and the next story turned into a 93,000-word epic which is still only 40% of the story I want to write. That was my ticket to ‘I can do this.’ I’d planned enough to have a proper-sized, actual plotted story, which I intend to one day finish.

Keeping Momentum

Since 2009, I have written at least the first 20k of eleven novels. Some are partials; which I wrote enough of to realise that they will never see light of day, and some are complete but need a major overhaul of plot and characters.

Of those eleven, three are stories I have a completed first draft of, which only need mid-level edits to make work.

And that’s where I find myself these days. Able to write and finish novels, and now in the somewhat-still-early stages of learning about efficient editing.

The Felled Gods

The Felled Gods was my first full-length attempt at large-scale world-building. Particularly baring in mind this is a standalone novel, I spent months crafting plot, landscape, creatures and character arcs ready to begin writing this piece. And even then, the plot twisted away from my map and my characters made different choices.

But the one thing I have learned from this project, is that for whatever reason, it is the cleanest first draft I’ve written. I was able to do a single read-through before feeling happy with the idea of passing it to an alpha-reader.

Whether that’s 6 years of writing and researching the craft, or the outline and world-building methods, the amount of time I had to write it (13 months, on and off) or a combination of the lot; I cannot say. I tested this planning-more-fully-than-before process, and so far, it seems to have worked fairly well.

To Each Their Own

My main issue with editing, is the need to re-write the beginning. I’ve heard this is a common problem, and Planes Shifter had 7 different ‘beginnings’ that I had re-written, starting at different points in the story (usually moving forward in time from the original point.) And each time, I struggled to write my character as they were back then, or to keep the plot the same.

But with The Felled Gods, I’ve found something that is, so far, working for me.

I’ve re-plotted the first Act – deciding to move around some aspects but keeping a majority of events as they are. Instead of starting with an audition, then wandering through town, she’s wandering through town worrying about the audition. This gives me a much stronger basis for the change, and her decisions, and grounds the reader in my culture to really show what is at stake.

And rather than re-write them now, I’ve made a list of scenes and what key info is in each scene in another document, then closed it to continue reading. Knowing that I will move the paragraph’s order, but most of it is well-written allows me to keeping reading on without that urge to ‘fix’ it all immediately, and re-write the whole beginning.

Draft 2.0

I spent 13 months writing draft 1, read-through it and made notes of changes to be made to the first act. Then I sent it to a reader, and now I’m reading through, applying the combination of feedback and those notes to see how cohesive I can make the plot.

My particular weakness is description, so I will have plenty of spaces to add in words detailing the landscape and my characters definitely need a little more ‘core.’ I have some good dialogue scenes but the voice of my two main characters definitely overlap in the faster-written areas.


How do you do those early edits?

How many ‘early’ drafts do you write before you feel the book is ready for critical readers?

Which key aspects (plot/description/character) need to be solid for you to move forward?


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