Laura Howard: 3 Ninja Editing Tips


3 Ninja Editing Tips

Today is Thursday, you say. Why are you posting on a Thursday? Well, gentle readers - when you read this gem of a post by Novel Girl Rebecca Berto you'll understand why!

Rebecca just published her first book last week. Precise is a prequel novella taking place in the world of her upcoming debut Pulling Me Under.

I used to think plotters (those who plan novels) produced boring manuscripts. As a converted panster, I know that I could have saved myself probably 200,000 words, a year, and a whole lot of mental breakdowns.

I’m talking about developmental editing, and my (note this may not work for everyone) best way to approach it—usually done in the second draft after you have the whole manuscript written.

These steps will save you time and lots of it. Trust me. Been there; done that.

Think about existing issues

First up is something you would have already done between the cool off period between finishing your first draft and starting this second draft. Fiction writers can’t help but wonder what they can fix up after that wretched/embarrassing first draft. My tip is to note down everything you recall in this period that comes to mind. For example:

  • Did it seem incredulous for the lead girl to fall in love with the guy a week after her last boyfriend died? (Change); or
  • I think I hate my main character (Have her work for a “cause”).

These things you noted down will be the most powerful tool you have to improving your manuscript. This is because you were assessing that first draft like a reader while it wasn’t in your hands. Once you get stuck in the writing phase again (second draft), you’re looking at your work as a writer and the big-picture issues aren’t as clear when you are that close to your work.

Scene summary cards


That description needed a paragraph of its own. Want to save months of trial and error, reviewing, tears, breakdowns, etc? Do this:

  • Skim read the first scene (including a prologue, if applicable).
  • Write a summary of the scene in no more than ~three sentences.
  • Note down any obvious issues you notice. (Did anything actually happen in that scene? Did it sound eerily the same as another scene further down? Did it accomplish anything to further the plot or characters?)
  • Repeat for every subsequent scene. :)

Decide what needs to change

There are three main aspects when figuring out your Plan Of Action (POA). These are characters, scenes, and themes. Nail each and you have a complete list of issues that will together ensure happy reading.


Are there two or more characters that provide the same role? (antagonist, carer, friend). Sometimes, and this one can happen a lot, a friend plays the same role as another friend. So, Bill and Bob both have black hair and brown eyes, both love cracking jokes, both run away from relationships and both love partying. See where I’m going? It seems obvious but it can happen so easily when you’re too close to the story in the first draft. My suggestion is Bill and Bob could merge into one character to avoid redundancies.

Are the main characters likeable? When a character acts out of their own interests and only to please themselves, it’s hard to make them likeable. Aspects that win over readers are things such as: putting the main character’s (MC) life in danger in order to save someone else, being an A-hole to the love interest in order to protect a secret that would hurt that love interest, etc.

Are they boring? Forget anything they do wrong. Is there a quality that makes that character unique and memorable? People have habits, quirks and certain ways in real life. It’s amazing how adding a little quality can make a four-star novel a 5-star. Take Point of Retreat (Slammed #2) by Colleen Hoover. Can you ever think of “Butterflying” in the same way?

Are their actions believable? Study people or think back to an event you can remember that’s somehow similar to the scene you’re looking at. Are the actions of the characters still believable if you had to imagine similar people doing that in real life? Always take into account knock-on effects, and not just if it sounds right on the page in that moment.


Are there any scenes that repeat? This happened to me … a few times. I was writing a scene where Bob tried to hunt down some evidence but was unsuccessful. He only inched forward a baby step. Then, bam! Go a few scenes down and Bob is in another setting, stalking another character for clues and comes up empty-handed.

When I assessed this scene, I realised they both served the same purpose and there wasn’t a difference. My choice was to cut it out and replace with something else or amend the scene so it moved the story forwards (maybe Bob found a little clue that indirectly lead him to his goal).

Are there scenes that are out of place? Do Bob and Jane sort out their issues three scenes from the end? What happens in those last three scenes that warrant the reader to continue reading? Didn’t you sort out the major conflict already?

In the same vein, are there scenes that are out of place with the novel’s structure? (E.g. turning point, mid-point, climax). It’s so easy for a novel’s structure to fall out of place when editing. If you cut a few paragraphs here, swap two scenes there—the next draft might end up being a mess because where each significant scene/point in the novel was is now out of whack. Ensure you review scenes around anywhere that has had a major change.


Genre readers expect certain features when reading a book. It’s just as important to ensure the feel of a book works as well as the characters and scenes do. For example, if your book is about second chances and reads like a romantic comedy, ensure you don’t get lost in the omgmywritingissofunny aspect of your novel. A story needs to have a message and you don’t want to mix up your readers by focusing on non-important stuff.

Tie it in. By which I mean tie in the plot or subplots to a theme. This helps you gain a perspective/goal. Rather than write blindly so that Bill and Jane go through a rocky patch but then sort out their issues, edit this draft with a theme/message in mind, which will allow you to add depth to that relationship. You have the first draft written so you know exactly what the story is about.

Balance. When thinking about the aspects your novel discusses, make sure that you vary pacing and balance hard-hitting topics with some light relief.

Writing the second draft

After you finish the above steps, the next is to write down your POA. You can’t possibly fix every issue in your manuscript—and that’s not because you’re a crappy writer. It’s because if you try to fix everything you’ll end up with a half-baked novel, and nothing outstanding at all.

Decide which characters stand out like a sore thumb. Figure out which scenes need the most work. Then, get to work on fixing these issues in stages, so you know each aspect will be 100% fixed up just as you wanted it without trying to master every issue at the same time and coming up 50% happy with all of it.

Thanks for stopping by! I'd love to hear what your tips are for developing your manuscript ~ leave a comment below.


  1. I like the idea of creating scene summary cards. I've done something similar as I finish drafting each chapter of my WIP, only I'm making a bullet point list in Word. It's been really helpful. I started out as a panster, but never again! If I don't plan enough before diving in, I end up literally creating pages, and pages, and pages of crap. Rewrites are always necessary, but it' also wise to take steps to eliminate too much wasted effort. Thanks for the great post.

  2. Thank you for having me, Laura.

    Hi, JeriWB. Glad I'm in good company with a converted pantser. In my defense, I was only a pantser because I had no freaking clue back then how to write a novel. Now that I've read books on writing and have developed so much, I know differently.

    As you said, we'll still have to delete and add lots of words, but at least we save ourselves some time and effort by planning.

  3. Hi, Laura :-) Great tips, Rebecca! I, too, am a semi-converted pantser. Now, my first step for each novel is an outline - not that it's etched in stone, but I used to just start writing! I'm getting there and my speed and efficiency are increasing. We can never get too many editing tips.

  4. Great post, Laura and Rebecca! I've recently started freelancing as a developmental editor and it's nice to see that a lot of those issues mentioned in your post are what I look for in authors' manuscripts.

    That's a great idea about summarizing each scene, boiling the info down to see what its purpose is within the story.

    Thanks for writing!



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