If you have finished your first draft and you are wondering how to start editing, I have found that asking questions about my manuscript can point me in the right direction. Consider the following questions:
- Have I described each of my settings?
- Have I spent too much time describing my settings?
- Do my readers have enough information about how my world works?
- Have I included details of my world that are unimportant?
- Do each of my characters have a distinct personality?
- Do my characters grow over the course of my novel - physically, emotionally, intellectually?
- Do I have too many characters? Can characters be combined?
- Do my character's actions fit their personality?
- Are all of my plot and subplot threads resolved?
- Does my plot build tension from the beginning with a distinct climax near the end?
- Do I show the characters 'returning to normal' after the climax? (Did I end the story too soon?)
- Is my inciting event close enough to the beginning of the story?
- Does the plot make sense considering the personalities of my characters and my world?
- Have I included a good ratio of dialogue to exposition?
- Do each of my characters have a distinct 'voice'?
- Do I have any 'monologues'?
- Have I removed all but the essential dialogue tags?
- Have I removed most of the adverbs in my dialogue tags?
- Do I have enough backstory included to give the reader the information they need?
- Have I included backstory that the reader doesn't need?
- Is my backstory sprinkled throughout my novel?
- Do I have any overly-long sections of backstory?
Each of those questions can highlight different problems that should be addressed in your story. You or your beta readers might have additional questions for your specific novel. If you have several problems identified in one or more of the defined sections, you might need to focus on improving your writing skills in that area.
Practice, of course, is the key for improving any skill. Once you've identified areas of your writing that you need to work on, try directed writing prompts in order to practice each skill.
- If you need to include more details of your worlds, write a travel guide about your fictional world. Include the geography, politics, currency system, and all the details a tourist should know.
- If you usually add too many details of your world, take a copy of your completed draft and remove every single detail of your world that does not relate directly to your plot. Be brutal. Strip out everything. Then consider carefully which ones to add back in, based on pacing and plot. Add back only a fraction of what you removed.
- Describe a scene using all five senses. What does your world smell like? Sound like?
- Write a biography for your character.
- Write a 'research' paper as if written by your character when they were school age.
- Write a diary entry by a side character, about an interaction with your character (how do the other characters in your novel see your MC?)
- Write a scene that emphasizes a character's 'quirk'.
- If you're a 'pantser', plan a scene step-by-step before writing it. If you're a 'planner', try writing a scene without planning it out first.
- Write a 'novel' using only five paragraphs - the inciting event, the decision point, the tension-builder, the climax, and the denouement.
- Write a scene using ONLY dialogue without even dialogue tags. Use the dialogue to convey emotion, movement, etc. Improve your dialogue.
- Write a scene using NO dialogue. Convey emotion through narration alone. Improve your descriptions.
- Write a backstory as told by one character to another - don't forget the give & take of natural conversation. Have the second character interrupt and ask questions.
- Write a scene where a complex backstory is told with no more than a single backstory sentence in any one paragraph (including dialogue).
- Learn to be concise: Write a complex scene - in under 500 words.
- Work on Point of View: Write a scene in your least-favorite point of view.
For any other skill you need to work on, think of a way to focus a small writing prompt on emphasizing that skill. The more you practice, the better you will get.