So often when we approach the first draft of our novel, it’s with a sense of dread and foreboding. A novel is a massive thing to tackle and all kinks can’t be ironed out on the first try. That’s why we hand off our newborn to editors, beta readers, and critique partners.
It’s a mistake to just hand over your first draft. There should be some editing involved before you expect someone else to invest their time in poking holes in your novel. I don’t mean that you should spend months shaping it up as much as possible with your own set of eyes and your one-sided perspective. But rather, there are glaring flaws that can be fixed that should already be out of the way before it gets to your reviewer.
An editor/critquer and especially a beta reader will only be able to pinpoint the first or second layer of grime on your novel. You’d be doing yourself a favor by cleaning that layer off so that you can get to the root of the issues instead of minor things you could have fixed on your own.
I like to believe this is why we never get it right after the first revision. Once we fix one problem, three more will appear. It’s not because they weren’t there before, but rather in comparison to the other issues they fell in the background and we didn’t have the capability to notice them.
Just because you fixed all the issues that were caught the first time around doesn’t mean the novel is perfect, so by all means be fully prepared to go through multiple revisions, even rewrites, of your novel before you finally get it right.
Now for some quick and dirty tips before your novel changes hands.
This is a simple prose mistake that can be detrimental to a novel. While it’s a no-no for any PoV, it will have the most destruction in a first PoV novel.
What is filtering? Basically any sentence that says the character “saw, heard, felt, knew” something. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the PoV already tells the reader whatever is being described is automatically saw/heard/felt/known by the main character. Therefore, if you outright say “He saw his sister get into the car.” then it turns out to sound pretty repetitive. You could simply say, “His sister got into the car.” It also shortens up the sentence, which brings us to our next point.
2. Keep it “Crisp”
If you notice comments on award winning novelists, a favorite compliment is “crisp” writing. What makes writing sound “crisp”? I like to think that the author managed to find the shortest way to say each sentence that still kept it fresh and appealing. The reader doesn’t like to feel as if their time is being wasted. They want a story, and they want it in an entertaining and efficient way. Superfluous information, and more so, superfluous descriptions, are a waste of their precious time.
Go through your draft and try to cut words wherever possible. One good “crisping” exercise is simply doing a search for useless words such as “That”, “Almost”, “Slightly”, “Rather” and remove them. Very rarely will these words hold any value in the storytelling. Often, they can be deleted without even rephrasing the sentence and not change the meaning, which tells you it was a pointless word to begin with.
3. Summarize Each Chapter in One or Two Sentences
This is a quick study to help you find if your plot flow makes logical sense. It’ll also help you get a feel for your novel as you try to revise it in the future. You need to know every chapter, paragraph, sentence and word where it’s placed like a chess mastermind. Some say this is the editor’s job, but who knows the story better than the person who wrote it? Truly know your novel inside and out. When you are intimate with the structure of your novel, you will be able to find plot holes and character actions/reactions that just don’t make logical sense. You’ll likely even discover entire scenes that don’t move the plot along and need to be cut. It’s a simple exercise with large rewards.
Some people say that it takes too much time to do such revision techniques as I’ve mentioned here. That’s why they hire expensive editors to do it for them. But honestly, if you had enough time to write the novel, why don’t you have enough time to make it publishable? A first draft is a very long set of musings, a first revision is your high school homework project, and maybe a few revisions after that is an actual publishable piece of work, depending on your skill at editing and those assisting you.
I must give credit where credit is due. These latest posts are inspired by two wonderful books on editing. This post in particular is inspired by Manuscript Makeover, written by an editor and author of whom I highly respect.
The Journey in Prose Series is likewise inspired by a well established literary agent who wrote “The First Five Pages“.