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9 Techniques to Ruthlessly Edit Your Manuscript

Ugh! I fell asleep while reading my own manuscript. :-(

A week ago I completed the first draft of my new novel, Under the Scup’nin Vine.

I high-fived myself.

Writers know why.

Thousands of hours of work finally drawing to a close.

I reminded myself: the work is not over. Not even close.

Time to edit.

Editing for me means multiple rounds of review — looking from a different perspective with each round.

This week I’ve been reviewing the manuscript for pace. My objective: DON’T bore the reader.

So I got comfortable on the sofa. Nice music in the background. Drink and snacks on the coffee table. I was reading, reading, reading and then… I fell asleep! I bored myself!


This can’t be good, right?

Rule of Thumb #1: If you fall asleep while reading your manuscript, your reader definitely will.


It’s time to wake up (literally) and smell the rejection letter!

I groan as I think about the rewrite ahead of me.

But it’s the right thing to do. After all, snoring is the kiss of death.

This means possibly losing chapters that I slaved over. Or characters that are as important to me as my wife. Or phrases and sentences and paragraphs that I’m sure are the best I’ve ever written.

You know what I mean.

I force myself to face reality.

I must make the protagonist more conflicted. (Good.)

Make the antagonist more sinister. (Really good.)

Cut any droning dialogue. (Goodbye!)


Don’t Be Afraid

Do what is necessary to remain true to the story!

Rule of Thumb #2: Create fearlessly. Edit ruthlessly.

I mentioned that I go through multiple rounds of editing. There’s a purpose for that.

Had I only edited for grammar and spelling, I would’ve missed a critical problem with my manuscript: There’s a long, boring stretch.

So that’s why I edit and review in multiple rounds. I change my lens for each round. Though it’s slow moving, it’s effort well spent.

Don’t be afraid to cut, slash, and obliterate.

Don’t be afraid to start over.

Don’t be afraid.

Be ruthless.


9 Techniques to Ruthlessly Edit Your Manuscript

Below are the points of view I use:

  1. Edit for intrigue. At what point do you hook the reader? If it’s not on page one, well… you’re in trouble. Does the intrigue build throughout?
  2. Edit for character development. Have you conveyed the essence of your characters? Do you need more backstory? Less backstory? Do the main characters have flaws and quirks? Real people do. Most importantly, will the reader root for your protagonist?
  3. Edit for the senses. My early drafts tend to focus more on storyline than on description, so I go back to weave in color and texture. Can your reader picture your characters and the setting? Can they smell the smells? Hear the sounds? Feel the tension?
  4. Edit for clarity. Try to read the manuscript as a new reader would experience it. Does it read like an essay or like a friend telling a story? Will your reader get lost? Confused? Have you introduced too many characters? Is there too much to keep track of? Will the reader remember what’s at stake for the hero?
  5. Edit for plot. Is the plot clear? Does each chapter progress the storyline or detract from it? Is the major conflict strong enough? Are there enough minor conflicts properly spaced? Are there twists? Does the protagonist have to work for the resolution against all odds? Or was it handed over too easily?
  6. Edit for pace. Does the pace build appropriately? The tension? Does your heart race? Or slow to the point of sleeping? Yikes! Does your reader need a tension release? Or will that spoil the experience?
  7. Edit for consistency and truth. Are your characters true to their personalities and beliefs — in dialogue, in thought and in action? If they change, have you appropriately set up the reason for the change? Is their dialect consistent? Did you spell their names consistently? Is the geography consistent? (Minor, but important. I sometimes draw a map of the setting, so I can remember where key locations are placed.)
  8. Edit for writing strength. This is where you may want to pull out Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style or Stephen King’s On Writing. Are the verbs carrying the load? Which adverbs and adjectives can be stripped out? You want hard-working sentences. Are you overwriting? Repetitive? And this list goes on and on — but I won’t repeat their books. Just read them. And apply them.
  9. A final edit for grammar, spelling and typos. After doing all the other rounds, review for grammar, spelling and typos. You don’t want readers and editors to get hung up on errors.

Editing this way is neither easy nor fast. But it is always a wise investment of time and effort.

Rule of Thumb #3: You’ve invested the time to write the manuscript. Be sure to invest the time to refine it.

At that point it’s ready for readers. Which takes more time. And more rewrites. I have rules of thumb for that phase too, but that’s a topic for another article.

If this article helped you even a little, please click that little heart so other writers can find it. We’re in this together, right?


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Bryan Searing