Fiction Editing Tips

When editing your manuscript, be ruthless about eliminating exposition and cutting extraneous material.

Delete Irrelevant Material

Read through your book one scene at a time and ask yourself: “In what way does this scene advance my plot?” If it doesn’t, either change that scene or cut it completely.

Your protagonist must struggle in each scene to achieve a goal that is connected to her overall purpose in the story.

For example, Hamlet’s overall purpose is to avenge his father’s murder. Every scene involving Hamlet takes one more step towards achieving that end. First, he must find a way to verify the ghost’s story. After all, the ghost could be misinformed or lying or any of a thousand other possibilities. Hamlet must prove to himself that his uncle is indeed guilty. Even his scenes involving self-doubt are connected to avenging his father’s murder.

Eliminate Exposition

Exposition and other kinds of lazy writing creeps into our first (and second and third) drafts no matter how skilled we are as writers. It’s so easy to write:

After breakfast, Amber tried again to reach out for the energies, but again nothing was working. She lay back on the bed to rest both mind and body—and floated among the diffuse fragments. It was soothing, but boring. Restless wisps of thought kept intruding—but they were all daydreams, fantasies. None seemed likely to get her out of this cage or back into Frayne Hall. She sat up again and looked around for the umpteenth time. If only she had something to do.

Eliminate lazy summaries of action and thoughts. Instead, use specific phrasing with strong nouns and verbs:

After breakfast, Amber again reached out to grasp the energies, but again they slipped through her fingers like moonbeams. Restless wisps of daydreams kept intruding, none of them likely to get her out of this cage or back into Frayne Hall. She examined her surroundings for the umpteenth time. If only she could find a crevice in the magewood and contact someone outside this cellar.

In particular, declare war on adverbs. Use strong verbs instead.

Amber moved slowly backward -> Amber crept backwards

Avoid bald statements of feelings. Ask yourself, what visceral sensations does my character experience?

She still felt nervous about trying to touch the woman -> When she thought about touching the woman, goosebumps prickled across her entire body.

Your readers will thank you!

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