Editing your own novel

With all the talk about editing I’ve done I figured I should get more in depth about the process. I initially didn’t want to edit my own novel. That was until I realised how much it would cost to edit my book. When I started on The FYP, I didn’t restrict myself to the number of words. I had a story and if it was going to take a 100 000 words to convey it, I’m going to use a 100 000 words to convey it.

Turns out…. it costs a bomb to edit 100 000 words. And with various types of editing services out there, if I were to engage an editor, it’d cost me anywhere  between SGD 2000 – SGD 6000.


So I decided to edit The FYP myself.

I completed writing The FYP on the 28th of October 2016. Since then I’ve made 2 major developmental edits, 5 major substantial edits, 2 major line edits and proofread the story so many times.

A couple of days after I finished my first draft, I did a line edit. A line edit is exactly what it is, you read each line for what it is, edit the grammar, the vocabulary, the spelling, the punctuation, all the nitty gritty details.


It’s tiring. I find it the most tiring editing process ever. The best part about writing is creating. Finding fault with what you’ve created is hard. So you have to know what are the faults that you have to look out for in your book. For example in The FYP, my characters, given their geographical location, wouldn’t use ‘got’ in their daily usage. But my characters go – “He’s got things to do.”  etc. As I use ‘got’ daily, I didn’t realise that it transferred into the novel. It was a gruelling process to change all my ‘got’s to ‘had’s etc. So you’ve got to know the rules of your story to avoid making systematic errors. Line editing is necessary, but taxing. It’s probably not the first type of edit you want to do to your fictional novel because you’re not done with your book after the first line edit.

I decided to take a look at the book again on 6th January 2017. I took a long break for two reasons. One, I was getting acquainted to a new work place in my personal life, but that’s not the point. The main reason was because I wanted to forget the story as much as I could so that I could read it again as a reader  and see if I enjoyed it. I find that more important than having beta readers pick at your book because you may or may not agree with them as the author. But as a genuine reader, you’ll be able to see your faults better.

And my god was the story boring. I couldn’t even read finish the first chapter. I was so horrified by myself. I mean the english wasn’t bad. I’d already line edited the book to the best of my ability. The story wasn’t bad. But it was told in an unentertaining way.

I made many substantial edits at this point. I didn’t want to touch the plot because I was very averse to changing the premise of the story. It’ll happen to you too.

Forget the re-writing, who in the world wants to restart from the beginning?!


So I delved into substantial edits which changes the way things are told. At which point of the story, do you introduce A, at which point do you introduce B, should you swap an earlier event with a later event? It involves removing unnecessary scenes, changing out passive voices with active voices, balancing out between showing and telling etc. Substantial edits work on the prose rather than the idea behind the prose.

But even after making substantial edits, I was unsure of the story. And I finally decided to do a developmental edit. You will have to, too. Because honestly, your first draft is bad. There might be plot holes you didn’t realise that were there, scenes that aren’t tight. You know the story in your head so everything might make sense to you, but you might have left out important details in your novel which doesn’t get conveyed to your reader.

And it’s okay.

Go back to the story board. Change subplots, change your characters, their motivations, their actions, hell you might even have to change your plots. I guess the only positive is, you’re creating again.

I decided to change a few subplots and change my characters. But the main crux of the story, I didn’t want to touch. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, what is the story you want to share with the world through your novel? And how can you make the novel more exciting while ensuring that story is still valid. Everyone starts writing because there’s something they want to convey that’s important to them. Don’t lose sight of it.

I took out the entire first two subchapters.

And the problem with making a change very early on in the story, is that it’s going to change a lot of things behind it. Your story now has to flow from a different set of events which affects your characters and their actions. Must you re-introduce characters? Must you introduce new characters? Does the new event at this point means another event in the later part of the novel cannot happen? How does the subplot you introduce affect your character and the way they react to other challenges in the future?

After the first developmental edit you’ll have to wait a while to forget the story before you proofread to see if the story flows. And that will bring arise to more substantial edits.

If developmental edits are about what is told, substantial edits are about how it is told.

So don’t waste your time doing line edits at the beginning. Don’t do it. It should be the last step once you’ve finalised the story idea.

Step 0: Finish writing.

Step 1: Take a break.

Step 2: Proof read – take note of the important details that don’t seem to flow, actions of a character that conflicts with their nature, subplots that don’t add anything to the story, unentertaining bits etc.

Step 3: The developmental edit – which involves having a different idea to enhance the story.

Step 4: Substantial edits – they’re are all about ensuring the new idea flows.

Step 5: Line edit – to ensure your writing has no systematic errors.

Step 6: Beta reading.

Step 7: Repeat steps 1 to 6.


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