I started writing ‘From Here to Nashville’, my debut romance novel in April 2013. By the end of October that year, I had a first draft which was over 100,000 words. As this is my first novel, I really had no idea how to go about the next stage so I turned to the internet to help me. Naturally, there was a whole ton of information and advice out there so I had to sift through it and work out what was right for me. I thought then that it might be useful, as much for myself as anyone else, to summarise the stages that I have gone through with this first novel in the hope that I will be better at it next time round!
1. Reading aloud
It is generally accepted that this is a good first step to take after writing that messy first draft without having stopped to edit along the way. This was the approach I had taken with this first novel and it’s also what I did with my second which was written during NaNoWriMo 2013 when I discovered that there is simply no time to stop and edit. For this process, I printed the story out. When I came to reading my story out loud, I realised that this is not something you can do quickly and the very act of slowing down meant that I found lots of little mistakes and was easily able to highlight them for editing later. This included the repetitive use of some words and I also found, for example, that I repeated characters’ names too much so I deleted quite a few of these. I noticed that I hadn’t been consistent with my writing of numbers, dates and times so I decided on a style and then I stuck to it. I found some obvious plot-holes that would need correcting later and I was able to ponder the structure of the story and think about whether it needed tweaking.
2. Replacing Passive sentences with Active sentences – E-Prime
I first wrote about this on my blog in May this year and you can read the full post here. In summary, this involves finding and replacing the verb ‘to be’ with a more active verb in your writing. The example I gave in the article still holds good, I think but here’s another one for you:
Before – ‘We were strolling along the promenade…’
After – ‘We strolled along the promenade…’
You won’t be able to do this for every instance but when you can do it, you will notice that it definitely improves your writing.
3. Over-used words
As I use Scrivener, it was really easy for me to see which words I was over-using using the ‘Text Statistics’ function which is an option under the tab ‘Project.’ I have taken a screenshot today of the most used words in my manuscript and I can still see that ‘I’ is at the top, as it was in May! I have managed to reduce the number of times I use it though 🙂
As you can see, these are all every day words and I feel pretty happy that I have managed to eradicate over-use of most of them. Words like ‘that’ are often put in unnecessarily and can bump up your word count no end. There are lots of articles about these over-used or filler words and you really should have a look at eliminating these during the editing process. Here are just a few things to look out for:
- over-use of adverbs.
- using clichés. Work out what you’re trying to say and then write it differently.
- using ‘began to’ or ‘started to’ or ‘decided to.’
- using ‘seemed to.’
- using ‘very’, ‘really’ or ‘just.’
4. Showing not Telling
Once my manuscript came back from the RNA, this was the first big thing I had to tackle. This was to be expected as it was my first novel so I didn’t beat myself up about it too much. Half the battle is in working out when you should show and when telling will be alright. Once again, I wrote a blog post about it here and there are also lots of articles written about it which you may or may not find helpful! The best one I found is listed in my blog post and remains the one I found the most useful.
5. Cutting Scenes that are not relevant to the story
This speaks for itself and has been painstaking because I have found it difficult to be sure whether every one is relevant or not. Sometimes it was very clear and I was able to delete without any worries but at other times, it was hard. I suspect that this comes with practice. If you write a good outline for your story and keep to it pretty much through the first draft, then hopefully, the redundant scenes will be fewer at the end. I’ll have to let you know on that one next time 😉 For now though, only you can know what you think is relevant or otherwise to your story but the general advice is that a scene is not relevant if it doesn’t move the story forward.
6. Killing your Darlings!
We’ve all heard this phrase, I’m sure but I hadn’t really absorbed it until I was advised that I had too many minor characters in my story. When I thought about it, I had to agree and I realised that this would mean quite a change to the plot of the story. Once again, it has been hard to make these changes at this stage but I know it has helped my story to improve and that’s what all this editing is about. We’re trying to make our story tighter and to make it a great read. To be honest, most of my secondary characters weren’t all that ‘darling’ to me and I was kind of relieved to release them off into the sunset. Who knows, maybe they’ll find another home in one of the books I have yet to write?
7. Adding Emotion to your Romance
The final piece of advice I have been given so far is that there needs to be more emotion on the page whenever my two main characters, Rachel and Jackson, are together. This advice came as a result of the partial edit I had done on my first three chapters and was really useful. The reader knows that your main characters are going to fall in love but you have to keep ramping up the tension every time they meet and although I knew this and it’s what I want as a reader, I could see that I hadn’t really written it into my story as much as I could have done.
And there you have it. This is only a brief summary of what I’ve done so far. I hope to send it off for its final edit next week and only then will I really know if I’ve done everything I can. It has been a steep learning curve for me as a new writer and I couldn’t have got this far without the help of a lot of other people, including the early readers of my novel. In the beginning, I allowed a fair few friends and family members to read parts of the novel and to tell me what they thought. This was only partly helpful because they all said it was great, of course and only picked up on typos. Some did want Rachel to go with a different love interest and that was certainly useful for helping me to develop the plot. Next time, I won’t ask so many people to read it in the early stages though. I will stick with my beta reader and writing friend, Cat, if she’ll still have me (!) and I have another writing friend who has offered to read my final draft this time (she knows who she is but she may have changed her mind since making that offer!) It is a big time commitment to beta read and you need writers to do it for you because they can be impartial, unlike your family and friends.
Good luck with your editing if that’s where you’re at and if you have any questions for me, do ask in the comments below or tell me of something you’ve done which has been really helpful for you. Thanks for reading and see you next week 🙂