This is a short guide on how to edit your novel. If you are a pantser like me and you struggle with the plot, you might find it useful.
- Write a synopsis. This is a first step to see what doesn’t work in your novel. A very clever way to do this is to adopt a three or five-act structure incorporated in Alexandra Sokoloff’s seminal work, ‘Screenwriting tricks for authors.’ You might not like the sound of this, but if you want to submit to agents and publishers, this is exactly what they will ask you to do. Some agents say that they do not read them, but they often require you to submit one in any case. So in a way, it is a preliminary step to have your work read, as, without it, the agent might think that you are just not professional enough.
- Write chapter synopses. This can help you to identify any plot holes and lengthy passages where nothing happens. It can help you also with more basic stuff, as you might change unintentionally some traits of your characters in the next chapter. This a tedious job, but it is very effective, especially if you do not have anyone else to look at your manuscript for you.
- Avoid lengthy backstory at the beginning of your novel as much as you can. There is a temptation to give away a lot of information about your characters. This is something known as ‘info dumps.’ This will put off your readers. Stay in the moment. Allow the reader to immerse themselves in your story as it progresses. Show don’t tell. If you include a lengthy passage of backstory, you’re telling the story rather than allowing the reader to discover it for themselves.
- Equally, ‘kill your darlings,’ so if there are lengthy passages of description in your novel that don’t do anything for it, it might be advisable to cut them. However, some targeted description of places and body language might keep your readers interested. A lengthy description of people might be tedious. This applies equally to their physical appearance and their character per verbatim. Try to show their character through actions rather than writing their mini-biographies.
- Make sure that characters have a lot of agency. Are they in the middle of the action? Is the plot surrounded around them? Do they make all the discoveries? If you can answer in affirmative to these questions, you’re likely to have developed interesting characters.
- Avoid passiveness. The agents most often complain about novels in which nothing happens. If you are writing literary fiction, you might get away with this, but in commercial fiction, it is required to move the plot along. Keep things happen. The better you write, the more you might get away with it.
- To polish your work, you can use a tool like Grammarly or Scrivener. The latter might be useful even when planning your novel. But nothing is as good as another pair of eyes. So ideally, join a local writing group, or if there aren’t any in your place, you can try some free critiquing websites. Of course, you have paid services available too, but do everything you can to polish it before you take your novel to people.