A Fantasy Novelist’s Approach to Editing

approach to editingI am impressed with any writer who manages to blog and write every day! Fantasy writer Victoria Grefer, author of The Crimson League, does just that, and you can read her daily blog about creative writing and marketing fiction at www.crimsonleague.com. Her blogs are full of wonderful information any writer can use, and she graciously accepted my invitation to share tips about her editing process with you. Victoria will soon release a writer’s handbook titled Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction, which addresses aspects of not only mechanics and style, but the emotional barriers that can impede aspiring writers (and even experienced ones) from making progress with their work.

If you’ve ever been flummoxed by editing your own work (and who hasn’t?), I know you’ll enjoy reading Victoria’s insights. Take it away, Victoria!

Are you flummoxed by editing your own work? #writetip #amediting Share on X


I’m a fantasy writer, and like many writers of all genres of fiction, a large portion of my editing process comes from Stephen King and his handbook On Writing, which I would recommend to any writer who’s not offended by a frequent four-letter word (because King does use them).

At King’s suggestion, I begin any edit with a read-through of my first draft, during which I inhibit myself from making changes (as much as possible). Rather, I jot down quick notes about my reactions to the text. I note pacing issues. I note when a passage or paragraph can most likely be cut. I note when something feels unclear and raises questions. I note when dialogue feels stilted or doesn’t fit the character who’s speaking. I note inconsistencies: I’ve found tons of them, ranging from a character’s eyes changing color to someone mentioning a fact he has no way of knowing at that point in time.

Now, I’m a firm believer that there is no such thing as a definite “writing process,” in that every author does things differently, and no single path will lead all to success. That also applies to editing. My personal approach to editing is to start with those comments I wrote during the read-through.

Editing is a long, heart-wrenching process, and especially so for a perfectionist like me. I make it easier by writing my comments using the “Review” function in Microsoft Word, so that when I edit, I can delete each comment as I’ve addressed the issue it references. This helps me feel a sense of accomplishment as I make slow, plodding progress through the document. There’s something rewarding about pressing that “X” on each comment, one by one. I also make sure to write some positive comments during my read-through, when I’m pleased with some aspect of the scene I’m reading. This self-affirmation keeps my confidence up as I confront the shortcomings of my work, a number of which don’t involve fun or simple fixes.

I write as a pantser—meaning without an outline, or “by the seat of my pants”—so while I do end up cutting a lot of information, I also have to add things. I generally don’t know before I write my novel’s end how things are going to end, which leaves me with a need to prepare my reader for the ending I hadn’t anticipated. This means adding material. At the least, I have to add snippets of information to already existing scenes; often I create new scenes entirely.

Because of my personal style, I’ve never agreed with those who say you should never add much material while you edit. Sure, cutting matters. Even I end up with a smaller word count than I started with after a good edit. Every first draft has its share of fluff that needs to go, but depending on your style and your personal process, adding a fair amount of material might be as necessary as making deletions. I don’t like to make blanket statements about the “evils” of adding words.

One blanket statement I can make is this: one of the best editing tips I can give you is to stop and ask yourself, when you reach a problem paragraph that you just can’t get right, whether you can cut it. Often I’ll spend half an hour working and reworking a paragraph because it doesn’t sound the way it should or do what I need it to do. Then, in exasperation, I’ll consider whether the reason I can’t get things in order is that the paragraph doesn’t need to be there. Often, that’s the case. Most, if not all, of the paragraph can go without causing me trouble, and if there’s a snippet of information that I do find I need, I can usually insert it somewhere else in the scene or connect it to the preceding or subsequent paragraph.

Sorry to digress there, but that point is important. Now, to get back to my process: once I get through all my comments from the read-through, I celebrate. Then I read through again but stop to edit as I go. I do this multiple times, reshaping scenes with each pass. First I focus on content edits, giving style a bit of a backseat. I make sure pacing works, and characterization, and that my plot holds up. Then I do one quick pass for style and typos before sending my work off to beta readers. Once I get their comments, I make more changes and more cuts based upon their feedback. I do more content edits, then style edits. I focus on passive voice, using adverbs too much, using “it” without an antecedent. I hone in on phrases I know I overuse and either cut or change them in every instance that I can.

So, that’s my editing process. I’m curious about how other people go about it. Do you do things in a similar way, or quite differently? Non-fiction writers, do you edit in a different way? Do you think that whether you’re editing fiction or non-fiction makes a difference? Please feel free to comment!

Victoria Grefer is from New Orleans, Louisiana. A lifelong student and avid reader, she has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and English and a master’s degree in Spanish literature from the University of Alabama. She has taught Spanish and tutored, and now is establishing herself as a freelance translator and perhaps editor as well. She is the author of the Herezoth trilogy, sword and sorcery fantasy beginning with The Crimson League and ending May 31, 2013 with The King’s Sons. She blogs daily about creative writing and marketing fiction at www.crimsonleague.com


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