In an ideal world, you would know when you were finished writing or editing a novel. You would finally reach a point where “THE END” was spelled out to you in big bold letters, or when the novel reached a point of perfection that landed it a spot among the greatest of classics. But… this isn’t an ideal world.
I did kill one of my novels once by editing it too much. You heard me right: there is such a thing as too much editing. And I did it. I kept going back to fix things, take scenes out and put others in, updating it, and in the end it really wasn’t much of anything. The unity of the story was severed, the plot and been melted down to a point where it didn’t really exist, and the side characters were so interesting that they completely took the attention away from the protagonists. Sometimes, the best option is to stop.
The hard thing is that it can be very difficult to know exactly where to stop. Your book will never be perfect. Editing will probably be long and intense, and there is no set way to determine when it is done because it will never be absolutely perfect. What are some tips for determining your finishing point? Since editing that one novel to death, I have picked up on a few pointers:
1. Keep your eye on the goal. Know what your story is about, and don’t deviate from it. Your subplots might be interesting, but keep in mind that they’re only subplots. Your master plot is really the only one that needs to be excellent.
2. Sometimes it’s best to cut. I’ve always had problems getting my books up to a decent length, and I used to make the mistake of trying to intentionally edit more words in. If there was a scene that didn’t quite fit, I would fill in around it until it did. What I didn’t know was that I was doing it backwards. When drafting, you always want to keep the story just about as long and complex as possible. Then, when you’re editing, cut out everything that you don’t need. It can be painful sometimes, but the best thing to do with a scene that doesn’t fit is actually just to cut it out entirely. The same applies to characters.
3. Keep it interesting. Are you bored with any parts of your story? Are there pages that you always just want to skip through or get past as soon as possible because that’s not where the good stuff is? Even if those scenes might be important, you should probably cut them and reroute whatever they added to something more interesting. This will make your book much more fun to edit and will keep your readers more engaged. Chances are that if it bores you it will bore them.
4. Take a break. Sometimes the temptation just to go back and fix that one scene is strong, but when you look at your story through fresh eyes the problems will be much clearer, and you will have a more rounded view of the novel itself.
5. Beware proof-readers. I sometimes have people read over my drafts, and I really do appreciate good critical feedback. However, one thing that you must keep in mind is that you will never be able to please everybody. Don’t make your story bow to every whim of everyone who reads it or you’ll take away its own identity. It’s more important to have a few readers who love your work than a bunch of readers who simply like it. Don’t compromise!
It can be hard to know when to stop. A lot of it is simple will-power and being able to put your foot down. If you accomplished your goal with your story, and if there aren’t any gaping errors, then maybe it’s time for the next step!