Nothing separates the professional writer from the amateur like the willingness to edit. Any successful novelist will tell you great writing is rewriting.
It’s natural to resist the idea of altering passages you’ve composed. You’ve spent months—or years—tirelessly working to complete your novel. Whether you’re now preparing to query literary agents or have decided to leap into Indie Publishing, give your novel the best chance of success by checking the pages for the following:
Hard copy? Don’t perform a final read-through in front of your computer. I advise printing out in a format resembling a paperback novel. This will allow you to view each page with a fresh, critical eye. You’ll find the details on Molly Greene’s blog here: http://tinyurl.com/7xnxpz3
Adverb Madness? Think of your novel as a long-distance runner and adverbs as the extra ten pounds your marathoner carries on her hips. Put her on a diet now. Yes, a few adverbs are needed in any story but they’re overused. She said heatedly / he gazed longingly are examples of dull, “showing not telling” that puts the reader to sleep. In the first example, show her anger through dialogue. In the second example, show his longing through gestures or mannerisms.
Unusual words? Many writers have a favorite word rarely used in common speech. One of my particular favorites is scuttle. It’s a deliciously descriptive word, but I tend to overuse it in my novels. Check your manuscript for similar overused oddities. Replace some of the examples with more common words.
Little use for Little and Very: Have you described a character as a little girl? Strike little because the pesky adjective weakens the sentence. Is he very mad? Again, banish very. Readers demand that writers speak with authority, and few words detract from your ability to do so as much as little and very.
Proper Order? Generally the most impactful words should appear at the end the sentence. Bernie leapt from the bridge to his death on Tuesday should read, On Tuesday Bernie leapt from the bridge to his death. By placing the most powerful words at the sentence’s end, you’ll compel the reader to continue moving forward.
Logic with Dialogue Tags? Don’t confuse the reader. If there’s any question about who is speaking, begin with She said, for clarity. Better yet, periodically replace said with an action to help the reader visualize the scene: Sally dropped into a chair. “No way—you go. I’m sick of getting in trouble.”
Story Logic? Double-check character descriptions, time sequences, time of day, and actions within each scene. Did Gwynn begin the novel with blue eyes but end with green? Did Chapter One begin on a snowy Thursday but it’s blisteringly hot in Chapter Five, and you forgot to mention it’s now July? Did the stranger on the train sit down twice in the first scene of Chapter Eight?
Photograph: Monaco; from my daughter’s semester in Europe.