Sunday 25 April 2021

Writers’ Questions: How should I edit my novel?

Ever since the sale of my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress, I’ve been answering questions about the writing and publication process on my blog. Today, I’m tackling the all-important topic of revision. 

This was a tricky one to write, as, unlike some authors who have a structured editing process (e.g. doing different edits for character, plot, sentence-level etc.), I a) revise a lot as I go, and b) make all of these changes at once. Rather than a step-by-step guide then, think of this blog post as a list of things to watch out for, no matter when and how you choose to do your edits. 

A final disclaimer is that I am a traditionally published writer. This article is assuming that you’re writing a book to submit to literary agents, rather than preparing to self-publish a manuscript. These tips are not designed to replace the need for a professional edit and copy-edit. 

So, let’s get into it. In no particular order, here are just some of the things to watch out for when you’re reading your novel with fresh eyes.

Inconsistent details

Does your character have blue eyes in Chapter Four, but brown eyes by Chapter Seven? Is the sunset visible from the same window where your cast watched the sunrise just hours before? Sure, maybe only a few readers will pick up on these errors, but for those who do, this kind of sloppiness will negatively impact their immersion in your world. You know your book better than anyone (after all, you wrote it!), so get the details right. 

Confused time/date/weather markers

I understand: things change as you write a novel, and sometimes the markers in your prose of how time is passing suffer as a result. Read your manuscript through this lens to see if you’re giving your readers enough info to understand where they are in time…and not inadvertently turning back the clocks or creating a crazy climate.

Point of view violations

I’ve written a whole blog post in this series on what point of view is and how important getting it right is to the success of a novel. In short, readers need to understand whose viewpoint we’re experiencing your story from, or, to borrow an analogy from filmmaking, where the camera is placed. Look for moments big and small where you’ve included information your point of view character couldn’t possibly know and cull them mercilessly. While you’re at it, also check you’re not employing filter words and distancing us from your chosen perspective.

Repeated words

Every writer has favourite words, but each time you inadvertently repeat one, it loses its power. Be aware of your writing habits and switch up your vocabulary where you can. Listening to your novel via text-to-speech applications can be particularly helpful here. That said, there is also a time and place for repetition. Check our this post I wrote eight years ago on how Charles Dickens employs repetition to great effect in one of his short stories.


This is another topic I’ve written about before, so you can read a full explanation here. TL/DR: adverbs are often a symptom of too much telling and not enough showing.


This leads us to telling in its many other forms. The most egregious to my mind is naming emotions to explain to readers how your character is feeling. Can you show us instead, through actions, body language, and dialogue? I’ve previously shared more thoughts on showing vs. telling here.

Lack of rhythmic variety

Having too many sentences in a row with the same number of words, words of the same number of syllables, repeated words beginning or ending the sentence, or identical sentence structures is the quickest way to put your readers to sleep, regardless of your book’s content. This is another area where listening to your work when editing is a godsend. Mix it up! 

Excessive use of passive voice

Like rhythmic monotony, constant use of the passive vs. active voice acts as a soporific, while also robbing your characters of agency. I’ve written a detailed blog post if you want to get better at spotting and eradicating unnecessary passive (hot tip: if you can add “by zombies” to a clause, you’re using passive!).


As a historical novelist, I have to be eagle-eyed to ensure I’m not ruining the illusion of transporting my readers to the past. Part of this for me is spending a lot of time while editing looking at etymology and date of first usage for words to maintain historical accuracy even at a sentence level.

Incorrect formatting

There’s a standard way to format a novel manuscript and its constituent parts (e.g. dialogue). Learn the best practices and employ them in your edit, even if your first draft was written by hand or in a non-standard format that works for you.

Spelling and grammar errors

Oh yes, and you have to have perfect spelling and grammar too! Don’t just think “the copyeditor will fix this later.” It’s on you to make your novel as great as you can—alone.

So, there you have it—an incomplete list of ways to get started if you’re tackling an edit! It’s a lot of hard work, but just know that with every change you execute, you’re making your book more powerful.

What topic would you like to see me write about next as part of my Writers’ Questions series? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist. My novel Bronte’s Mistress is available for order now, and for monthly updates from me delivered direct to your inbox, sign up for my email newsletter below.

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Sunday 18 April 2021

Neo-Victorian Voices: Deception by Gaslight, Kate Belli (2020)

Kate Belli takes us back to 1880s New York in the first instalment of her Gilded Gotham mystery series. Reporter Genevieve Stewart, a jilted bride born into an eccentric family in Mrs Astor’s 400, is on the hunt for “Robin Hood”, a jewel thief targeting the rich, but burglary isn’t the only crime afoot. Genevieve joins forces with Daniel McCaffrey, a wealthy and handsome man with a shrouded past (and questionable taste in waistcoats), but can she trust him? And how many people will die before she uncovers the truth?

I very much enjoyed the New York setting of this well-paced mystery, from the lavish parties of the upper crust to the dirty allies of the Five Points neighbourhood. I also appreciated that the investigation moves forward without tedious interrogations and our “detectives” asking the same questions again and again (my issue with many procedurals).

Genevieve is a capable and likeable character. She’s in her mid-twenties, independent, and proactive. She also has two living parents, brothers, and supportive friendships—a rarity among protagonists! There are moments of damsel-in-distress drama, but Genevieve is largely able to save herself. The romance is well drawn and doesn’t overwhelm the story, which remains focused on unmasking the bad actors at work in the city’s ballrooms, backstreets and institutions. 

All in, this is a fun read. Don’t expect a gritty, realistic look at life in gilded age New York—this isn’t what this novel offers. But if you love whodunnits, lively plots, and great costume parties, consider adding Deception by Gaslight to your summer reading list.

Which twenty-first-century-published, nineteenth-century-set novel would you like me to read next as part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series? Let me know, here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

Don’t forget that my novel, Bronte’s Mistress, is out now! And for monthly updates on my blog posts and writing, sign up for my email newsletter below. 

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Monday 12 April 2021

Neo-Victorian Voices: Melnitz, Charles Lewinsky (2006), trans. Shaun Whiteside (2015)

I’m cheating a little with this one. My Neo-Victorian Voices series typically covers books written in the twenty-first century, and set in the nineteenth. Charles Lewisnky’s Melnitz, first published in German in 2006, starts in the 1870s, but covers the fortunes of the Swiss Jewish Meijer family until the Second World War. Still, I couldn’t not tell you about this wonderful novel!

I love a good multigenerational family saga (Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s The Mountains Sing (2020) and Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko (2017) were recent favourites). But it can be hard to connect with so many characters across multiple generations. Lewinsky does a great job of characterising his cast with a few deft brushstrokes, painting them as individuals forced to make painfully human choices amidst shifting political tides and the ever-lurking threat of anti-Semitism. 

To read this novel is to live with the burden of history. We know what will happen next as the Meijers cannot. Where to live? Under which nationality? And with whom? These are life or death decisions. The drama of Melnitz isn’t comprised of twists we don’t see coming. As readers, we’re watching a train thundering towards the family, and unable to tell them to get off the tracks. 

I loved the broad definition of family the novel embraces. Not all of the characters are linked by blood or marriage, or even religion—the Christian baptism of one character is a momentous event in the course of the novel. But a shared cultural inheritance, stories, and memories, as well as the experience of being othered within Switzerland and beyond, bind those we follow together. 

Some of the standout moments for me included the depiction of Arthur’s sexuality, the evolution of the relationship between stepsisters Chanele and Mimi, and the sort-of friendship between Hillel and his Frontist classmate at the agricultural college. 

Coming to this novel, I knew little about the lives of Jewish people in Switzerland in the nineteenth century. Meanwhile, depictions of the country in the WWII period often focus on Switzerland as a dream destination, the symbol of freedom and safety, appearing through the Alps. I’m so happy I read this book and will be recommending it to anyone who’ll listen. If you enjoy novels filled with humour and pathos, which bring to life histories you haven’t heard before, you’ll love this book.

What novel would you like me to review next as part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist. My novel, Bronte’s Mistress, is available in hardcover, audiobook, and e-book now, and the paperback will be released on June 22nd! Want to stay in touch? Sign up for my monthly email newsletter below.

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