Tip for Editing a Novel That Can Save You from Yourself

I am going to occasionally share bits and pieces of my writing that have been edited or torn weeping from the arms of my novels, spitted on the bloody bayonet of tight language and hoisted in the air to flop and wave for all the world to view with sickened, slack-jawed horror.

In short, this will be a “deleted scenes” feature that recurs with a whimsical lack of regularity.

The Rule of Three

Ruined_cottage_near_Slieve_Binnian_-_geograph.org.uk_-_643422There are a lot of reasons to edit. One I like is the Rule of Three. To wit: if three critique readers tell me something needs to change, then it simply needs to change. This sometimes means getting rid of something I like, but it’s useful. Like many writers, I come up with all  of reasons to keep my babies, but the Rule of Three is the sovereign remedy for excuses.

The following is a short example, snipped from a chapter of “Conjurers,” an epic historical fantasy set in the year 1380 that will be published in April. The scene takes place as my protagonist, Eamon, looks back at an Irish farmhouse he’s leaving:

The house could have been cousin to one of the ruins seen dotting the countryside, those roofless and forlorn shells where people once thrived in a time when you might see at your hearthstone a blood-stained hero like Cúchulainn, who did everything in an epic key—winning impossible contests of strength or trafficking with black swans in rush-bordered pools beneath forest canopies so thick the air was like perpetual night.

Clearly, this is a frikkin long sentence, but I sometimes enjoy those. Michael Chabon, Salmon Rushdie and Robert Penn Warren are three authors I can think of off the top of my head whose ostentatiously long sentences I’ve admired.

People also had issues with the modern-sounding word, “trafficking,” even though “Trafficking with Satan” is one of the charges the people accused of witchcraft in Salem faced. But that is the point, what matters is the reader’s perception. And so a rule is a rule is a rule.

Final Edit

Here is what this paragraph was changed to:

He glanced back and already the farmhouse looked forlorn. Nairne’s face had set like stone and he wondered if she would ever return, and how she might fare alone, if she did. He imagined her home becoming like one of the many ruins that dotted the land. Every one of those tumbled houses had a story and he wondered if they were tales of carelessly spilled coals or errant sparks in the roof thatch, or whether any had concluded like this, with blood spilled in violence.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe edit had the benefit of taking this from 3rd person omniscient to 3rd person close, in the head of my character.

There’s my tip for editing a novel. What’s an editing approach that works for you? Let me know in the comments section below.


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