With Overshadowed coming out in March, I’ve been doing a lot of final edits.
There have been a lot of questions from family, friends, and interested parties - what’s your process? How the heck do you keep all your notes straight? - and they brought to mind something I posted to Scribophile several months ago, when a fellow writer asked: how do you edit a full novel?
Well, it’s mostly hard work. Hard work and coffee. And some tears, maybe. But in my experience, a good amount of organization and planning can make it manageable. As an avid planner, architect, and general all-around organizational freak, I have a simple process for ensuring I get the most out of my developmental and SPAG feedback.
When I edit a novel, I do two things:
Read through any and all critiques and write down all suggestions that aren't SPAG (more on this later)
Read through the entire manuscript myself, and write down anything I see that needs a touch up
As part of this process, I break edits into three categories:
Whole: edits that span the entire novel. Character deletions, added subplots, a personality overhaul, alterations to settings, etc. I also include in this category things I think can be better overall, like further diversifying the voices of two characters, or making the romantic subplot more heavy-handed.
Section: edits that span multiple chapters, but not the whole novel (in my experience, anywhere from 3 - 6 chapters). For instance, maybe a side character doesn't do anything for a large chunk of time. They don't need to be deleted, but they need to have more agency in a certain section. Or maybe you need to change the setting in your intro chapters, but that won't affect what happens in the later chapters.
Chapter: edits that are contained within a single chapter. This can be anything from you got a hair color wrong once to cutting a very minor, one-off character. It can also be changes in flow, pacing, scene direction - all contained in that one chapter. (This category includes SPAG edits, however I don't write those down. I have my critiques handy while I edit chapters, and change SPAG as I go.)
This can be a lengthy process. It took me about two weeks (with a full time job) to get this done for Overshadowed. But once you do get it done, you'll have a notepad full of whole, section, and chapter edits. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you're a crazy organizer like me who kinda sorta gets a high off of planning), we're not done.
Next, you need to take your whole and section categories, and map your editing plan throughout affected chapters.
As an example:
Let's say you need to delete a character from the book. She was a major secondary character, but unfortunately she was one too many in the cast and her motivations simply didn't click. From chapter one to the final chapter, you map how her deletion needs to be executed.
It might look something like this:
Chapter 1: not introduced
Chapter 2: not introduced
Chapter 3: cut introduction. Have [secondary character 1] give our MC the map instead of [deleted character (DC)]. Focus on the map and the treasure instead of the conversation between MC and DC
Chapter 4: remove DC from campfire scene. Use extra space to build up more romantic tension between MC and romantic interest.
Chapter 5: DC doesn't save MC from monkey-bear; romantic interest does.
This process will turn your whole and section edits into additions to your chapter edits categories. This gives you a list of edits for every single chapter, and should ensure you capitalize on all of the critiques you were given.
And, that's about it. Then you execute.
It's hard work, but going in with a plan will concrete your direction, and allow you to focus on actually editing rather than debating whether or not an edit is worth it in the moment. For all you editing novels out there: good luck!