Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tips for Editing Your Novel

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Many authors, professional or otherwise, make some of the same mistakes when writing. Among them is the correct balance of “white space”, unnecessary or too much information and the infamous “as –ing” construction.

The balance between text and white space on a page is a difficult concept to explain, but you’re looking for the correct flow to your page as well as your words. To give you an idea of how to find this flow, print out your manuscript, or even your chapter, single-spaced for this exercise. Flip the pages and just get a feel for the amount of white to black you see. Then compare your manuscript to a novel of similar genre and see how it compares. Does yours have a great deal more or less white space? Do your paragraphs seem dramatically longer than the published work’s? If you have too much black, this is often caused by too little dialogue. Too much white space, in contrast, often means too much dialogue. One secret is to look for paragraphs that run more than, say, half the page. Try this a few times to see if this helps you. It’s interesting, but this simple exercise may just enhance your writing more than you’d imagine.

Another error writers make is implanting unnecessary or too much information. This often comes from the overuse of setting or a character’s personality traits. For example, if you find your character dons her threadbare coat while slipping on her gloves with only six full fingers, and she laments the hole in her hat as she places it atop her head, then picks up her worn purse that contains only a few odd coins, well then, you’ve probably told too much. Your reader will understand your character’s economic plight with much less information. Just drip these ideas by offering a detail or two then get into the story. As these details build up, your reader will understand both personality and setting. If you need this much information for word count, then your story is probably too thin.

Another way an author adds too much information is having more than one character perform the same function or provide identical information to the story. Does your story need a father to teach your hero to use tools and a grandfather to teach him to hunt? Can both of these functions be performed by a single character? Too many characters in a novel create confusion for the reader and might not add to the story. Read the first fifty or so pages of Gone with the Wind and you’ll understand what I mean. Review each character to see if they are necessary to the story and see if two or more can be combined for clarity.

The “as –ing” phraseology is also often used abused by new and experienced writers alike. To explain this, we’ll revisit our destitute woman mentioned earlier.

“As she put on her hat, she turned the key in the lock.”

Another way you might see this is as follows:

“Putting on her hat, she turned the key in the lock.”

See the “as –ing” context here?

When reading these sentences, the first action, putting on the hat, seems to have much less weight then the next action, turning the key. The hat feels inconsequential. To correct this, it might be rewritten as follows:

“She placed her hat on her head then inserted the key into the lock.”

In this case, both action appear to have significance and therefore makes the first action more important.

If you review your manuscript, you may well find some of these issues buried within. By fixing them, you’re writing will take on a far more authoritative tone.

Best of luck and I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze


  1. Hey Pat one quick question. Do you remember the series that I was talking about writing when I went to Virginia? Well, I just started the third book, and a problem I'm running into trying to find the right balance between information and recapping from the first two books. What I want to happen is that in theory a person could pick up any book without having read the others, and by the description in the book they're reading, be able to follow all the characters and plot developments. However, as I re-read the first few pages I've written, it seems like too much information at once. How should I balance information/re-capping/advancing the plot?

    Thanks, Ryan

  2. Hey, Ryan,

    Interesting question and I've been giving it some thought.

    My answer will not be what you want to hear, but here it is.


    However, I might recommend you take a at the Shaara, Catton and Jakes series, all Civil War based compilations. They are all exceedingly successful authors and you might want to mimic their proven formula.

    Hope this helps, Ryan.

    All the best.