Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Big Edits, Part 1

There are small edits that have to be done on your manuscript, such as punctuation, grammar, dialogue, descriptions, typos, formatting, missing words, setting, overuse of adverbs, too few or too many commas, etc. Then there are the big edits that sometimes have to be done.

Big edits are not as straight-forward or easy to correct. You still have to do them, though. Let’s start with those that most affect the beginning of your novel.

Think about your Point of View. Should it be first person or third? Sometimes you start your manuscript and you know it has to be told from the 1st person POV (or the 3rd person POV), then half way in, you feel it’s not working so well, but you’ve already written so many pages that you soldier through. If it’s not working for you, the writer who loves the manuscript, it’s not going to work for the reader. Do the work and change it. If you or a trusted reader has trouble with the POV, seriously think about making the change.

Let’s talk about slow beginnings. Long ago, books started slowly, describing the scenery or the weather. Nothing happened for fifty pages. Not so anymore. Things happen in the first chapter, the first page, the first paragraph, even the first sentence. Not in all books, mind you, but in a lot, especially genre books like mystery, suspense, action-adventure, romance, sci fi/fantasy, and others.

Another thing that can slow down the beginning is back story. Cut it, cut it, cut it. Weave it in throughout the book, if you really need it. Try to show it through dialogue or action. Don’t drag down the beginning of the book by telling the reader what happened before the story even starts.

Next time, we continue our look at the Big Edits of your book. In Part 2, we tackle pace, narrative and dialogue. Part 3 goes into plot and conflict. Be sure to drop by with questions, comments, and suggestions.
Helen Ginger is an authorblogger, Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and Chair of the Texas Book Festival Author Escorts. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of the novels Dismembering the Past and Angel Sometimes, three books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe.


  1. *pulls out her machete* Cutting away…

  2. Doing the big work is so important.

    I just had occasion to observe a couple women I know knitting and one was teaching the other. One of the first things she did is have the novice rip out all the work she had done so far because it was too wide for what the novice wanted to knit. The novice hadn't planned it out but she was going to keep knitting because she didn't want to waste what she'd done so far, but you really can't do that with either knitting or writing. If it's not right, if it's not working, slash and rewrite.

    Good advice as always!

    Wyatt at Pan
    We don't just write the stories, we live them at Pan Historia

  3. Yep, doing the major POV change on the ms right now. No fun, but gotta be done.

  4. Meg, a machete is good. So is a teeny carving knife, sometimes.

  5. I gave up on trying to knit. Even what little I did would have been hard for me to rip out. But it definitely needed to be taken apart. That's a good analogy!

  6. Angie, it has to be done sometimes, doesn't it? I had the occasion of changing the POV for a character, then eventually changing it back. The character changed too much when I put in the distance of a 3rd person POV.

  7. Great analogy. I made a huge jump in my knitting attitude when I learned to cut up a piece with scissors. Omigawd! But, it's a common technique in Europe, and it's very freeing to be able to do it. A whole new technique. Snip snip. Works with writing, too.

    And you can post your snips as Penny Dreadful! Sometimes snipped pieces of your book are fine as stand-alone stories.


  8. Good post and tutorial. I have SLAVED over POV in my manuscripts. And oh god, when you realize, with the dang thing 2/3 written that 1st person isn't "working" and you HAVE to go back and switch it ALL over - sometimes I'd wished I had taken up goat herding rather than writing.

  9. Well, Marvin, that sends the imagination flying. You as a goat herder. Poor goats. ;-)

  10. Dani, I have old attempts at knitting that are dreadful, unfinished, tighter than a monkey's grip. And I couldn't cut them up. I can't even throw them away or take them apart.

  11. Marvin the goat-herder...?

    If he does it dressed in robes such as in Biblical times, I want to see a photo!

    L. Diane Wolfe

  12. Great post, Helen, and I love the comments. Look out for machetes and knitting needles. :-)

  13. Marvin, sounds like Diane has described your next book cover.

  14. Helen,
    Good advice. I often suggest my editing clients eliminate the first chapter (or several chapters) and weave all that backstory in later. I've heard writers say, "The book gets better," but readers aren't going to read the boring part until it gets better.

  15. Very true, Lillie. I, myself, have put down a book that lost me in the first chapter.

  16. Helen, I have a question. My YA ms is written in 1st person present, and I've received some feedback from people, one of them an agent, saying they prefer past tense. I changed it back and forth in the early stages and then finally stuck with present, but I wonder if it might appeal to a wider audience in past. I know it's subjective and more and more books are being written in present tense. Any thoughts?


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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