WRITING Editing your NaNoWriMo

November was all about NaNoWriMo. Congratulations if you took part, but it doesn't end there. January is editing month. Kate Walker gives us some tips on trimming and rewriting your NaNoWriMo creations.


Congratulations on taking part in NaNoWriMo, whatever your progress. You showed up and made headway. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t finish your novel. You can always continue writing; your manuscript won’t self-destruct. Make sure you complete your draft.


Next, it’s time for edits. A wonky plot, predictable characters or a trundling pace, like a cart pulled by a half-lame donkey, can all be changed and polished, transforming your MS into something alluring and shiny. Here’s how to start.


Ask yourself some questions


Why do you care about this book? What makes it unique? What’s the heart of the story? Once you have answered these you can start to edit.


Write a synopsis first


Unpopular, but a synopsis lays out on a page the main plot beats in your story. If you struggle to write your synopsis it could be due to a lack of clarity about the crux of the story and your protagonist’s motivation. Plus, it’s good practice as you will need a synopsis for all your books if you hope to publish them. It’s hard, but necessary.


Chapter outline


Create a word table or spreadsheet and make notes for each chapter. Note the location, characters, motivation of the protagonist and antagonist, conflict and how this scene moves the story on. Also note any important points, continuity issues or foreshadowing for consistency throughout your novel. Doing this should illuminate tricky chapters, character weaknesses, implausible plots and muddled themes etc that need reworking.


Be honest with yourself


What works? What are you passionate about? What clunks or seems unoriginal and where are you bored? If you are finding parts of your story slow, so will your reader. Which bits make you grin and want to get back into your imagined world? Don’t lose heart, everything is fixable with a little thought.





Add navigation headings to the start of your chapters so you can easily click between them without endless scrolling. This saves time and frustration, allowing you to easily find where you need to be in the story.


Three acts or five?


You probably decided this before writing your book, but just in case you totally forgot, it’s best to know where your main climaxes fall. Check they’re in the right places so the story is revealed to the reader for maximum tension and pace. Draw a line graph of highs and lows to visualise this.



Talk about it


Create a pitch and try it out on a writing friend. How do they respond? Tell them the main plot beats. Can you bounce ideas to strengthen your plot, characters, world, conflict? Does it make sense or is it woolly and confusing? Talking through your ideas highlights what is working and what isn’t. Marketing teams at publishing houses need a pithy concept to sell. Sometimes comparison titles can help with this and instantly sum up the style of your story. Imagine kids at school recommending your book. It needs to be clear, for example, 'It’s about kids outwitting pirate dinosaurs', or 'Star Wars meets The Gruffalo', something to quickly picture the genre.


Can’t I do these later?


You can edit without the previous considerations, but unless you’re clear about your aims, destination and focus, you will meander. You may tinker with pretty sentences and wander through a world that makes sense to you, but maybe not your reader. Don’t fret: slashing chapters, re-writes and changing from third person to first etc. are normal. Suddenly the ingredients will be right and your book will come together like cookie dough.




Read your novel. Make notes on wonky sections. Where does the pace slow? Was it confusing? Which paragraphs did you have to re-read to make sense? The experience feels different as a reader. Change the font, print it out or switch the device you are reading on, so it seems less familiar than the screen you wrote on. This change of perspective can make a difference and allow you distance to be more objective about what works.


Character arc


Does your protagonist have one? What do they want? Does that differ from what they need? How do they grow from the start to the finale of your book? Take a look at the hero’s journey on YouTube for pointers and dig deep into what makes your character tick. What drives them onwards? What do they stand for and believe in? You need to know, then throw everything they fear at them, make them suffer. Now do the same for your antagonist. Remember, a book needs conflict to raise the stakes and make your protagonist take your reader on an emotional journey.



Edit a chapter at a time


This is where the rewriting, cutting, and smoothing begins. Look at the big picture. Characters, who are they? Are they described early so the reader can picture them from the off. World-building, what are the rules? What is special about it? Why is it captivating?


Lexicon and world-building


Where is your book set? What are the rules of that world? What makes it unique? Why will readers want to explore it? It doesn’t have to be fantasy to be interesting. It can be historical, contemporary but there has to be some reason to visit. How do the inhabitants speak? Is your main character one of them, or an outsider? From Artemis Fowl to Pride and Prejudice there are rules for these worlds that the protagonist is expected to adhere to whether they choose to or not, and your reader needs to understand them to maximize any conflict you introduce and know why it matters.


Edit backwards


Start at the last chapter, edit it, move back to the penultimate chapter and edit the whole chapter. Does it set up the chapter after it that you have just edited? Look at all the beginnings and endings of each chapter and how they roll into the next one. Is it building towards your ending? Have you set it up in the right places? Is there a hook?


Use the read aloud function


Once you have edited the structure, character arc, plot and world-building, it’s time for the closer line edits. Best left until last or you’ll waste time tinkering with sections that may be chopped or rewritten. The read aloud function helps pick up typos. You will have read your chapters so frequently your mind will autofill what should be written, not what is actually typed on the page. Plus, if the robotic, monotone voice makes your story sound pacy and exciting you know it is really working!


Best of luck! 

*Illustrations by Tita Berredo 


Kate Walker is a feature writer for Words & Pictures. She writes MG, chapter and picture books. Kate was longlisted for the Chicken House Open Coop, Guppy Publishing Open Submission and Writing Magazine Chapter Book prize. Kate lives mainly in her imagination, but also in Sussex with her two children who she tests her story ideas on, when she’s not writing about gardening for her day job. Twitter: @KatakusM

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