What I learned while editing my latest mystery novel

Nail the weather (season especially) and the setting before doing anything else. The weather didn't play a big part in my novel, so I only mentioned it once in awhile. The problem was it was fall at the beginning of the novel, and only about ten days later, it was winter. I'd forgotten which it was! Minor, but I just know some readers would notice. Also, I've found it best to mix up your setting with both urban and more rural places because most likely, you'll need both. I sure did.

Try not to have your main character have two of anything to keep track of. My PI drives two cars--one, nondescript, for business, one for pleasure. But it got mixed up in there when she loaned her business car to her aunt. I didn't keep good track of what she was driving, and now I will have to search the whole document and be sure it's the right car!

Thank goodness for the search feature in word processors.


Pick your character's names with care and try not to change them. Yes, the search feature will work here, but if you use certain names, the universal search and replace will put them inside words or at the beginning or ending, making for strange new combinations. Easier not to have to correct that.

Read the ending--last quarter or third-- several times. You've probably read the beginning over and over again, but as you get further in, you will probably read the later stuff less. Make sure everything makes sense at the end.

Print it out. I bought a ream of cheap paper and printed the whole manuscript, then used my red pen. I corrected everything from that first go-through on the computer, then printed it on the back of the first printing, after making a red slash through the other pages so if I dropped them in a heap, I'd know which pages were the newest ones.

Use the page break feature in your word processor at the end of each chapter. Then each chapter will start on a new page--nice.

Have lots of room for three piles of paper and for a notepad. You have what you're reading in your first pile, what needs fixing in another pile, and what's okay in a third pile. Make notes as you go through--during the first run-through you will probably find several things that need fixing on pages you've already edited, so you will have to go back and find the spot(s) where you need to make adjustments. But don't try to do it during the run-through itself.

Plan for large blocks of time with few or no distractions.


Take your time. After the first fix, let it sit awhile and mull things over. You may need to do this more than twice--I ended up doing three print-outs, read-throughs and edits. Each edit took me part of a week, but I didn't begin on the next one until the following week. I think this time is needed, especially if you don't outline, to be sure all the pieces are in place, all questions answered, all details correct.

I'm sure I've missed some things others may have run across while editing a whole novel. I'd love to hear them so next time, it might go even smoother!

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Comment by Jan Christensen on October 16, 2007 at 7:08am
Thanks for commenting, Linda. I've written so many short stories and had them critiqued that I already was very careful about names beginning with the same letter. It irritates me to see that in best selling books, so I'm careful. But thanks for reminding me--don't want to forget that one. Sometime soon I hope to have more stuff about revising because I'm still not quite done.
Comment by Linda L. Richards on October 2, 2007 at 2:43pm
Great advice, Jan! Interesting stuff. And nailing the season early on is a good thing on so many levels because it helps you understand what's going on behind the story: the way the air smells, the way the ground feels. Things you might never mention, but if you know them, it supports the whole deal.

On character names: one thing to look out for is giving different characters names the begin with the same letter. I did this in my second novel and I totally did not mean to. Though it was caught before it ever left my hands, it was bothersome to have to rename three characters quite late in the process. And I thought, "Bizarre! How could this happen?" And then discovered that many writers had this happen at some point in their career. Isn't that odd? But it makes it something to look out for.

Thanks again for the thoughtful posting.

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