There are many different strategies authors use when they edit a novel. I have a similar approach with all of my editing work, but how much editing really depends on how strong my initial plan and outline were for the novel, along with what kinds of things my editors would like to see added.
Currently, I’m working on my next historical fiction novel for young readers, due out in the fall of 2008 from Coteau Books. Its working title is Longhorns and Outlaws,.
The interesting thing about editing this book is that the time between my last draft and starting back into editing was over a year. In that time I wrote two other novels and two nonfiction books, so my writing skills had grown–I find each book and editor teach me something new about craft. Also, I’d had a variety of reviews on my first historical novel, Adeline’s Dream, which made me look for specific things in this novel.
My process can be outlined in very specific points:
- Check that the plot is strong enough to pull readers through from beginning to end, with enough exciting scenes to keep them wondering what will happen.
- Check that the character grows and changes through the story, and that this actually occurs through the plot events, so that readers see the consequences of actions and decisions we make.
- Check that there is a strong climax to the story and that it is located at a good point. The ending shouldn’t be 3-4 chapters after the climax, or the story gets boring, but there should also be enough space for some excitement after the climax, or again, the story gets boring.
- Check that the end of the story is satisfying, even if it leaves readers wondering what may come next.
- Check that the chapter endings are exciting and make it hard for the reader to put down the book. Chapter ends that tie up scenes, so the reader moves on to the next chapter with a new scene/activity can end up with an episodic feel to the story, whereas time moving forward in the middle of a novel doesn’t seem so slow to the reader.
- Check that all of the characters are three-dimensional, with supporting characters showing some change through the events of the story as well as the main character.
- Check that the voice of the narrator has a distinctive style that is consistent throughout the novel.
- Check that the language shows instead of tells, particularly in the most exciting scenes.
- Check that the setting is vivid and well developed, so the reader can get a sense of where the story happens, even if it could happen anywhere in the world–even the main character’s room or school is sufficient to create “place” and put the reader in the main character’s world.
- Check for the use of a literary writing style that works with the narrator’s voice and style.
- Recheck any historical details that may pop up as additional depth is added to the story. Language must also be checked for historical usage. This is a great link that lets writers determine what sayings/phrases were used in what periods: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=feign
Of course it’s hard to keep track of all of these things at one time! So, I often go through the novel multiple times checking and editing for specific things. When I decide to make changes to some aspect of plot or character, I’m also careful to re-examine the other elements to see what impact they’ll have in various areas.
The final edit is, of course, a line edit to make sure grammar and punctuation is all done correctly. The line edit is also the last time to make sure everything is consistent: his mother’s eyes are blue in both places they’re mentioned; the horses names are consistent throughout; etc.
Editing is the most important part of writing, so I always allow ample time to ensure I’ve done my story characters and the historical period justice.