Editing might be a bloody trade. But knives aren’t the exclusive property of butchers. Surgeons use them too. ~ Blake Morrison
Six tips to help you get your NaNoWriMo novel ready for a reader
1) Think about the emotional truth behind the story. We do all sorts of terrible things to our characters. Lock them up, make the one they love go off with someone else, kill off a best friend or partner…we know what’s going to happen next: they’ll get out of prison, find someone better…but you shouldn’t write as though your characters know that. They can’t just move smoothly from one big emotional scene to another because that’s the way you’ve planned it – there has to be consequences. They have to react and they have to feel.
2) Question the purpose of each scene. Does it move the story forward, develop a character, flesh out the plot? If it doesn’t, what is it doing in your NaNoWriMo novel? George Orwell said that if you can cut a word you should cut it. That advice also applies to scenes, chapters and characters.
3) Edit chapter endings. We think about beginnings a lot because we want to hook the reader in and grab their interest. Chapter endings are about making sure that they won’t stop reading. Ever read an Amazon review where someone complains that a novel kept them up until 3am because it was unputdownable? That’s the kind of review you want. Chapters aren’t neat self-contained segments – or at least they shouldn’t be. At the end of each chapter give the reader a reason for reading on. They were going to put the light out, start making the dinner, watch television….stop them by adding a hook. Here’s an example I’ve just thought of:
That’s the end of that, she decided putting down the phone. There was a knock at the door. Strange, she thought as she hurried across the room. I’m sure everyone’s gone out.
It’s clunky and I’m sure you could do it much more elegantly, but I think it illustrates the point…the reader has to read the next chapter to find out who was at the door.
4) Read it all the way through again but this time out loud. Anything awkward – such as repeated words – will become obvious. It will even help with your punctuation – where you stop for breath is probably the place you need a comma.
5) Does the reader know enough? Readers should have a clear understanding of what the story is about and what is at stake by the end of the first five thousand words. Does the reader know too much? Everything is on a need-to-know basis. Don’t put in unnecessary detail about characters and events that have little to do with the main plot. The great Russian writer Anton Chekhov said if you have a gun in act one it better go off by act three – otherwise don’t mention it. Seek out any guns in your NaNoWriMo novel and get rid of them or squeeze the trigger and fire.
6) Print it out. Don’t try revising on the computer screen. You’ll find mistakes in the hard copy that you would never spot on the screen.
Finally (well, not finally at all – it’s just the start of the next editing stage) you are ready to ask several trusted writer-friends to read your NaNoWriMo novel. It’s not a democracy, but if the same element is flagged up again and again there is a very good chance something has gone wrong. Listen to what they have to say, but even if they can diagnose a problem, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to suggest the right remedy. Only you can write your novel.
To inspire you here are a few of the many novels that have grown out of NaNoWriMo.