Fiction Writing Tips: Editing the First Draft

Writing the first draft — for me, anyway — is the fun part, because I find it to be exciting when I finally take my idea and bring it to life on paper. However, once the first draft is finished, you have to edit it, and editing the first draft is what I dread the most. Even though I despise the editing process it has to be done, and throughout my years of writing, I’ve discovered a few things that make editing the first draft a little easier and less time consuming. With that said, let’s explore some of the ways I edit my first draft, so that maybe when you begin editing your first draft, you will find the process a little less frustrating as well.

Fill in the Blanks

As I mentioned last week, it’s best to write the first draft of your fiction novel without stopping, but now that you’ve finished writing the first draft and moved on to the editing process, it’s time to fill in the blanks. In other words, because you wrote the first draft without slowing down or stopping, you might have inserted little notes in parentheses so you could go back later to fill in the details. Those little notes might have said something such as “research the scenery in the town of X for a short description to go here.” On the other hand, maybe you were stuck on a section and skipped it so you could return to it later. Why would you skip a section or chapter? So you don’t have to stop and think, which could interrupt your flow of words.

Insert the Chapters

If you wrote your first draft without breaking it down in to chapters, now would be the time to re-read what you wrote and decide where to begin and end your chapters. Remember, you want to leave your readers wanting more, so when you end a chapter, try to end it in a spot where you know the reader will want to continue.

Re-read for Consistency

Re-read your fiction novel to make sure your staying consistent with your tense (past or present) and person (she or I). For example, if you’re writing in past tense, make sure all your sentences and words are past tense (e.g., take in past tense should be took).

Check for Spelling and Grammar Errors

Perform a spelling and grammar check using Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar check feature. Because you can’t always depend on Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar checker to catch everything, you should also do a manual check.

After you re-read your fiction novel to do your own check for spelling and grammar mistakes, perform the following tips for another round of editing:

1. Search for commonly misused words such as effect and affect, then and than, bring and take, who and whom, and other misused words. Once you find those words, double check to make sure you’re using them correctly.

2. Check to make sure your quotation marks are properly placed. In dialogue, the quotation marks should go after a period, comma or question mark.


“I don’t believe in angels,” George replied.
Ronald asked, “Why not?”

3. Are there any words that you tend to overuse without realizing it? Search for those words and delete or replace them with another word from your thesaurus.

4. Read through the last paragraph in each chapter to make sure that you’ve ended the chapter with a “hook” that will compel your reader to keep reading instead of earmarking or bookmarking the next chapter.

Additional tip: When performing the editing tips mentioned above, use Microsoft Word’s Find and Replace feature. Using the Find and Replace feature in Microsoft Word will make locating and replacing what you’re looking for quicker.

Record Yourself Reading Your Fiction Novel Aloud

Grab your recorder, settle in a quiet room and read your novel aloud. Start at the beginning and read all the way to the end. You’d be surprised how many mistakes you’ll catch by reading out loud.

After you’ve recorded yourself, play the recording and listen for mistakes. When you hear a mistake, pause the recorder, correct your mistake, then continue where you left off.

If you follow the aforementioned advice in the order I listed, then editing the first draft should be easier for you. “How will it be easier?” you ask. Think about it for a minute. If you fill in the blanks before you do a spelling and grammar check, you won’t have to repeat the spelling and grammar check a dozen times. Makes sense, right?

Editing your first draft on your own is a must, but I also recommend investing in an editing service to have a professional editor look over your fiction novel to catch things you might have missed on your own. One final edit by a professional could save you from embarrassment as well as reviewers pointing out the spelling and grammar mistakes you missed by accident.

Join me again next week as I share researching tips to help you discover the right publisher or agent. To keep up with each post in my Fiction Writing Tips series and earn one entry into my Mentoring Session Contest, subscribe free to have updates sent to your e-mail inbox.

Photo courtesy of Nic

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