If you haven’t edited a long piece before, then tackling the first draft of a novel can look like a nigh impossible task. You’re not just making sure four or five paragraphs flow together coherently – you’re analyzing a lengthy narrative and shaping it into its final form. A critical part of this process will be deleting language that does not work or does not matter to your reader. However, it takes some practice before you develop a sense of when and where to cut language. In the meanwhile, try to ask some or all of these questions about every paragraph you read.
- Which parts of the story would be hard to understand without this information?
- How is this information leading the reader through the story?
- What kind of information are you giving the reader here? Is it plot exposition? Character development? A description of a cake that the heroine is having for dessert?
- Where else in the narrative can the reader get this information?
If you are not able to answer the first two questions, then you should probably delete the passage you’re asking about. Half the purpose of editing is the removal of unnecessary information which adds nothing to the story.
It’s not so simple to evaluate a passage based on your answer to the last two questions. Sometimes, we need to convey information like the rich chocolate flavor of the cake, even if the handsome stranger already told us about it when he ordered it for her from across the room. The latter two questions are more useful for comparing the importance of two passages than for quickly flagging unneeded language for removal.
Examining all of your paragraphs this closely may seem arduous, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly you learn to scrutinize your writing and spot passages that it doesn’t need. By analyzing your paragraphs’ role in your story and evaluating their importance, you can make great progress on editing even a very lengthy work.