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Monday, January 05, 2009

Editing the Elements of a Novel

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor


You’ve finished your first draft. I suggest you celebrate this milestone before you dive into the next stage on your manuscript. Take a short break. Give thanks to God in helping you plow through the creative process. Pray for God’s guidance to help you make your story the best it can be.

Now you get to start the Editing the Elements process to polish it to a clean shine before you send it off to an agent or editor. Be prepared. You will need to read through your entire manuscript several times and do what I call Run-Through Edits. It depends on how well you’ve written your first draft as to how many run-through edits you’ll need to do.

Dissecting the Elements Phase
You will need to look at each element of your manuscript separately. By elements, I’m referring to such things as dialogue, beats, characterization, emotional impact, point of view (POV), sentence structure, grammar, etc. You can either read the whole manuscript concentrating on only one or two elements at a time. Or go chapter by chapter to concentrate on each element, then read the same chapter again concentrating on one or two other elements.

I prefer the chapter by chapter method. That way I don’t feel overwhelmed and I can send off the first three chapters and wait on a response while I work on polishing the rest of the manuscript. I say this, because some editors can take so long to respond to proposals. Also, once I finish a chapter, I like to move on to the next and not go back until I have to or for the final edit.

Even the best multi-taskers can miss things. The chance of missing something is greater if you are trying to catch everything at once. This is why it is best to take your time and dissect your novel by breaking it down into elemental phases during the editing process. This will help you see things that you otherwise might not see when you simply read through the manuscript.

Some people like to use the highlighter method. To do this you will choose a specific highlighter color for each element and go through your manuscript and highlight whichever element(s) you are currently editing so you don’t miss things you want to work on. If you prefer to edit online, you can do the same thing by highlighting sections in Microsoft Word.

If you work with critique partners who have critiqued any of your first draft, you might want to go through their comments first and make any necessary changes and then start the Editing Elements process. Your critique partners can give you a broad opinion on any loop holes in the story and if the whole story comes together succinctly—something that the Editing the Elements might not provide because it takes a dissection approach.

Check Lists
You can use the check list method for each element as you go through your manuscript and highlight the elements you want to concentrate on. Over the next few weeks I’ll post a checklist for each of the following elements:

  • Plot

  • Setting

  • Characterization

  • Point of View (POV)

  • Dialogue

  • Tags & Beats

  • Emotional Impact

  • Sentence Structure & Grammar

  • Genre Specific Elements


    I really appreciated your comment today on my post. It is encouraging to know how others get through things with writing but mostly I was so excited to read that you got your contract! I want to know more!!:)))

    I enjoyed your post. Can you explain what you mean by "tags and beats"?


    Promised Blessings, my Scottish Medieval, will be published with Abingdon Press May 2010. It seems like so far away. Thanks for asking.


    Action Tags/Beats tell what a character is doing and it's often used before and/or after dialogue. Also called Action Beats.

    Ex: "Hand me the tape." Martha pressed her finger on the edge of the wrapping paper as she held out her hand.

    Dialoge Tags tell who is speaking.

    Ex: "Who called?" Steven asked.

    I'll go into more detail when I post the checklist. Thanks for stopping by.

    Promised Blessings, my Scottish Medieval, will be published with Abingdon Press May 2010. It seems like so far away. Thanks for asking.

    I AM SOOOOOO Happy for you!!! Please give me a reminde again when it comes out!! Hope you celebrated alot!